Freshwater invasion coming to the UK

A large group of foreign freshwater species from Turkey and the Ukraine are poised to invade Britain’s waterways.
17 October 2014


An invasion is coming. Murderous mussels are leading the way with killer shrimp and other freshwater species waiting in the Netherlands, poised to enter the UK.

Quagga Mussel

Quagga mussels are native to Turkey and Ukraine, but in the last few weeks have been found  in the river Wraysbury near London. A report published in the Journal of Applied Ecology this week, looks at the likelihood of a freshwater invasion and the potential risks.

In the last 20 years, there has been a lot of canal construction, which has linked many European rivers, allowing for the movement of freshwater species from the Ponto-Caspian region around Turkey and Ukraine, towards Britain. "This has not only created a great highway for trade and transport," says David Aldridge co-author of the report and lecturer at the University of Cambridge, "it has created a great highway for invasion."

The invading mussels attach to solid surfaces, such as the UK's native freshwater mussels or pipes near the water. This can lead to the suffocation of the native mussels and the pipes to be able to carry less water, which is expensive to fix.

"A single quagga mussel can filter around 2 litres of water a day," continued Aldridge "this can drive a complete change in the nature of the water." In some cases this can lead to the growth of toxic algae, or to nuisance weeds that can cause problems for recreational angling, or driving boats. 

The reason that Aldridge and others are worried is because they believe that we are on the brink of an invasional meltdown. 

"In the Netherlands, there's probably about 20 Ponto-Caspian species waiting to invade that we haven't got here yet," says Aldridge. If the invasive species do make it to Britain, then our freshwater systems will start to look very different.

"Ultimately a large number of the UK's waterbodies are going to look more like the Ponto-Caspian than they are the native UK community." 

The killer shrimp is amongst the possible invasive species from the Ponto-Caspian region. 

"Killer shrimp really like to feed on the waste faeces produced by the quagga mussels," says Aldridge, "these killer shrimps are really a problem because they can kill other shrimps, eat some of our native insect larvae, and even eat fish eggs." 

Listen to full interview here.  


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